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Students honor Marie Thurston

Leadership Class unveils a new exhibit detailing the life of Thurston Middle School's namesake. Her family provided photographs and a plaque.

April 07, 2011|By Barbara Diamond, coastlinepilot@latimes.com
  • UNVEILING: Two leadership students unveil historical photographs of Marie Thurston during a celebration at Thurston Middle School's libary that honored the life and contributions of the Laguna pioneer.
UNVEILING: Two leadership students unveil historical… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Student leaders at Thurston Middle School on March 31 uncovered windows to the city's past and the woman for whom the school was named.

The students dropped the curtains on three framed glass boxes filled with text they wrote and archival photographs illustrating Marie Harding Thurston's contributions to local education and the city.

The unveiling in the library was the finale to a celebration in Thurston's honor presented by the student Leadership Class, the Thurston PTA, the Boyd family, who are Thurston's descendants, and emcee Thurston Principal Joann Culverhouse, also known as "Dr. C."

"Last year, Dr. C. came to our Leadership Class with an idea of creating something to honor Marie Thurston," said student Annie Brown. "We read numerous articles, researched and came up with many ideas."

The idea they chose was to mount displays in the library and the school office. The Boyd family provided a portrait of Thurston and a plaque for the office. But the class wrote the history and chose the photographs that are displayed in the library.

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"We are very excited to have her memory around the school," Brown said. "Thurston is honored to have had such a wonderful person to be named after."

The text in the window boxes is a brief history of a remarkable woman, read to the guests at the dedication by leadership students Leslie Dwight and Taylor Addis.

It starts with Thurston's arrival in California.

"She obtained her teaching credentials at L.A. Normal School, known today as UCLA, and was one of the first teachers in Laguna Beach, becoming principal of Laguna Beach Grade School in 1913," Taylor read.

Thurston, who had two daughters, taught eight grades in the little school house which stood on the site of what is now occupied by Laguna Beach High School, later relocated to the Veterans Memorial Building on Legion Street.

Thurston was always being tested, according to family history. One morning, a large snake was coiled up on her desk. To have shown fear was to lose control of the school. She didn't

"Marie married Joseph S. Thurston on a sunny June 15, 1921," Leslie read. "The couple honeymooned on Catalina Island. Her daughters, Virginia and Doris, Kelly Boyd's mother, were adopted by Joe Thurston, who built a home for his new family near the school house, which he called Dream Knoll."

Marie Thurston was more than a teacher. She wrote and produced Christmas plays at the school house. She also performed with the community theater.

Marie Thurston died in 1949 of breast cancer.

In 1968, a junior high school was built, originally given Thurston's full name but later shortened to Thurston Middle School.

Culverhouse said Michelle Boyd did the heavy lifting on the project.

"It was truly a labor of love," Boyd said. "And I had the pleasure of meeting with the Leadership Class, who came up with wonderful concepts that energized me."

Councilman Kelly Boyd, who is Thurston's grandson, thanked the students and the PTA for its support of the project and Laguna Beach Historical Society board member Gene Felder, who provided useful information for the dedication.

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